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Consistency Counts

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The number of channels within which retailers can operate continues to grow. Where a store and website used to suffice, many merchants are adding mobile and social media applications; as the Internet melds with television, more brands could find they’ll need a TV strategy, as well.

The consumer market is much more “fragmented,” says Craig Shields, vice president of e-commerce with Jewelry Television (JTV), a retailer of jewelry, gemstones and gifts. While JTV’s cable television channel remains the company’s largest source of revenue and the primary vehicle for generating consumer awareness, its e-commerce business is growing. Last year, the company launched applications for iPhone and Android devices. On top of this, Shields and his colleagues are monitoring the looming convergence between the Internet and television.

“It’s been anticipated for decades, but in the last six to eight months, it’s been growing at warp speed,” he says. According to research firm Parks Associates, the number of Internet-connected high-definition TVs will reach more than 150 million units by 2015.

As JTV began capturing more sales via different channels several years ago, its systems had a hard time keeping up. When it came to online sales, “we felt we were perpetually behind in the basic principles of e-commerce,” Shields says.

While the company’s content management system contained all the product information available, the category pages were cumbersome to manage. Due to the system’s complexity, the merchandising team wasn’t able to incorporate new promotions or tweak the design. Instead, “senior development engineers were doing basic HTML, Javascript and CSS coding,” Shields says. “It wasn’t the best use of resources.”

It also was becoming clear that the system would be unable to effectively scale as the company and its array of selling channels grew.

The same experience
JTV already had a centralized database for inventory, customer and transaction information. It needed to integrate an e-commerce platform that would allow merchandisers to make changes quickly and consistently, and to reach customers in all channels.

Say a customer is watching JTV on television, smartphone at her side. She sees a product on TV that intrigues her, opens up JTV on her phone and searches for the same item, where she learns more about the product and adds it to her virtual shopping cart. “No matter what device the customer picks up, it’s the same experience,” Shields says.

Demandware, a provider of on-demand e-commerce platforms, has helped JTV deliver just that, both online and through its mobile application, and JTV is formulating a strategy for tablet devices, as well.

Demandware’s solutions are software-as-a-service (SaaS), making them easier and less expensive to launch and upgrade, says Gary Lombardo, manager of mobile, multi-channel and social commerce marketing. Of course, the application still needs to work with customers’ existing systems.

Demandware’s e-commerce storefront was able to tightly integrate with JTV’s enterprise applications, including customer and inventory databases and its warehouse and order management systems, Shields says. All customer devices — TV, Internet, smartphone — interact with the same core databases. Demandware’s analytics also let retailers know how their online businesses are performing. The software is user-friendly, and typically can be manipulated by employees outside of IT. Clients can “get into the code to make changes seamlessly,” Lombardo says.

Keeping up with growth

Since implementing Demandware about a year and a half ago, JTV has realized a number of benefits. The software can provide a “360-degree shopping experience” through its mobile applications and online presence, Shields says, giving JTV “an increased ability to keep up with the pace” of growth. That’s been key as Internet sales now account for approximately 30 percent of JTV’s revenue.

Several steps have been critical to JTV’s success with Demandware, Shields says. First was recognizing that trying to quickly build stand-alone applications for different channels just to get them launched eventually leads to more work. That’s because it requires reinventing features (like the search function) for each channel. “You want to centralize core application processing,” he says.

At the same time, retailers don’t want to underestimate the work involved in a systems integration project and should take steps to leverage their technology partner. During the implementation, members of Shield’s team worked side-by-side with Demandware experts. “That gave our team the opportunity to learn faster, vs. being handed the project when it was over,” he says.

Developing a realistic integration schedule also is critical, particularly when migrating an existing business to a new platform. “It’s like changing wings on an airplane while it’s in flight,” Shields says. When the retailer throws the switch, it needs to know that all the information has been accurately retained and landed where it’s supposed to go.

Finally, it’s important not to over-sell the benefits of a platform upgrade. “You have to plan for a two- to five-year ROI model,” Shields says. While some benefits may be immediately apparent when launching a new platform, many accumulate over time. JTV now is able to easily and quickly update its website, which it does at least several times each week. “This empowers and enables the e-commerce division,” he says.

The proliferation of channels through which customers are shopping puts a great deal of pressure on all retailers. “It’s not just about e-commerce any longer — it’s also mobile, tablets, Internet-connected TVs and so on,” Shields says. “You need the right software and organizational structure to ensure your company is nimble and can adapt quickly to all the ways your customer is engaging with you.”